As the global luxury market focuses on the future and evolves to stay relevant to the modern luxury traveler, the British luxury hospitality sector is experiencing a “quiet renaissance,” according to Laura Tan, co-founder and strategic director of Notable.
Tan spoke at an event held last week unveiling a new report titled, “The Art of British Luxury Hospitality,” from Walpole (the sector body for the luxury industry, with 270 of the UK’s luxury brands among its members), and published in partnership with Notable.
It’s a booming time in British luxury hospitality. Over the next three years alone, London will see the openings of major international hotel chains including Raffles, Peninsula, Rosewood, and Four Seasons Residences.
In 2018, the UK welcomed 37.9 million inbound visitors, according to Visit Britain, with the ambition of bringing 40 million in by 2020. Of those, 3.9 million Americans crossed the pond in 2019, spending £3.4 billion and making the U.S. the most valuable market for visitor spending.
“The British scene offers a unique, heady blend of heritage and modernity, unforgettable authenticity, and a hyper-localized experience unavailable anywhere else in the world — all of this is perfectly placed to attract the discerning, affluent American traveler,” said Helen Brocklebank, CEO, Walpole.
The report – informed by expert interviews and ongoing research – found that the destination is aptly suited to appeal to today’s affluent travelers, highlighted by four key trends.
1. Sense of place
Today’s luxury traveler wants to feel connected to the destination they are traveling to, whether it be through the hotel’s design or experiences offered. The report points to the recently opened The Newt as an example, which celebrates Somerset’s famous apples and cider, through its Cyder Cellar and crab apple orchard.
This has changed the notions of wellness, moving away from the spa and into nature. Travelers can further immerse themselves by experiencing surrounding nature. For instance, Scotland’s rugged landscape lends itself to this trend, and has seen a resurgence in popularity.
The UK is so rich in history that travelers around the globe are already familiar with so many of its facets – from London’s culture and style, to Scotland’s highlands, to the rolling English countryside, to traditions like afternoon tea. As Tan said, the “key strength of British brands is being able to give that modern spin on heritage.”
2. Comforts of home and then some
The modern traveler is moving away from a consistent, cookie-cutter experience to something that is much more personalized, and in many ways, informal. These guests want to check in and check out when it suits them; they don’t want fixed meal times; and they want to bring their whole family along – from multigenerational travel, to “Skip-Gen” (grandparents and grandchildren), and “Side-Gen” (aunts and uncles traveling with nieces and nephews).
“Every hotel I spoke to talked about the new challenge of the multigenerational family traveler and what that means for hotels and the type of accommodations they are offering. And, indeed, we’re seeing all sorts of new variations of that coming together,” Tan said.
All this is driving a move from “presidential to residential,” where lavish suites are being replaced by more apartment or townhouse-style guestrooms, with kitchen amenities, a dining room for the whole family to eat together, and different bedroom combinations.
Tan pointed to the Corinthia Hotel London as recognizing this dichotomy of the modern luxury traveler, which offers both Brompton Bikes and Rolls Royce as transportation options for guests.
Connected to this is the desire for a more informal, responsive style of service. The best luxury hospitality service is increasingly characterized by real human relationships between guests and staff, the report noted, and replacing subservient-style service.
3. Stories over services
Amenities, which were previously seen as the indicators of luxury, are sort of losing their importance in favor of the unique experiences that hotels can offer. Increasingly, hotels and restaurants are developing experiences for their storytelling potential.
Brands are coming up with unique programming highlighting their storytelling virtuosity. Belmond has partnered with the London Philharmonic Orchestra for “exceptional music in exceptional places,” and Harrods’s Dessert Bar has tasty creations made specifically with Instagram in mind.
“It was amazing to organize concerts, this once-in-a-lifetime experience — it’s how we try and connect with this Millennial mindset that wants something unique,” Arnaud Champenois, senior vice president global brand and marketing, at Belmond, said during a panel discussion.
Leaning into this idea of envy-inducing stories to boast about, there’s a demand for elevated adventures that are a one-off endeavor. At Cookson Adventures, a luxury adventure company, tour guides are selected for their storytelling abilities, in addition to being practical guides.
4. Access over ownership
What was previously seen as traditionally back-of-house activities, such as the florist, gardener, chef, are being moved front-of-house and being used as an active part of guest interaction and entertainment.
At Scotland’s Fife Arms, the hotel forager, who goes out and sources local ingredients for the restaurant, offers to take children out on mushroom hunts. At Chewton Glen, guests can take tours of the garden led by the head gardener.
Speaking during a panel discussion, Thomas Kochs, managing director of the Corinthia London, echoed this idea, adding that it’s the simple things that facilitate a better guest experience. He said guests look forward to speaking to English Michelin-starred chef Thomas Kerridge, who recently opened a restaurant in the five-star hotel. “It’s about access over ownership,” Kochs said.